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Life at Club Fed

On November 30, 1997, Gary Weaver, after successfully completing the RHC's Violent Offender Program, was transferred to William Head Institution. A few months later, I travelled there to see him. It had been ten years since I had visited William Head, and during that time the institution had undergone a complete makeover. It had originally been a quarantine camp for new immigrants to Canada, and until 1992, the housing for prisoners consisted of dormitory-style huts with prisoners eating their meals in a common dining room. Since then, prisoners have lived in small duplexes where they make their own meals, do their own laundry and take on the everyday living responsibilities which traditional prisons strip away. It is not the duplexes, however, that have given William Head its "Club Fed" designation. That is largely attributable to the site on which the institution is located: a rocky promontory with magnificent vistas of water, wooded coves, and coastal mountains. Once through the main gate and a security fence topped with razor wire, visitors could easily be led to believe they had arrived at an oceanfront retreat with modest but comfortable housing. Within the eighty acres, there are lofty Douglas fir, western red cedar, and Garry oak trees. A meandering road follows the contours of the coast. The duplexes, which each house six to eight prisoners, are organized in cluster formation, with each cluster sharing a common community building with laundry room and offices for staff and programs.

Gary Weaver took me on a walking tour of the site, which included a carving shed built by Aboriginal prisoners with a house front and two house posts carved in traditional West Coast style and a wood salvage area where prisoners cut up driftwood for use in sweat lodges and carving. The tour ended at Gary's favourite place, a Buddhist shrine of which he was the caretaker.

Despite the improved surroundings, Gary Weaver's first five months at William Head had been anything but ideal. From the day of his arrival he was a primary target for informant reports. In January, the IPSOs had confronted him with "reliable information" that he was muscling in on the drug action at William Head; by March, these allegations had escalated to claims that he was not only selling but using heroin. He denied these allegations and offered to provide urine samples, as he had done at Kent and the RHC, to prove that he remained drug free. He was told that only prisoners in programs involving community contact could be placed on voluntary urinalysis. He then offered to provide urine samples on demand at any time and challenged the IPSOs to make such a demand each and every time they received what they regarded as "reliable information" that he was using drugs. No such demand was ever made of him, yet he continued to be under a cloud of suspicion. His case management officer said she could not support his reclassification to minimum security until this cloud was removed.

During our interview, Gary expressed his mounting frustration at these correctional roadblocks.

At one meeting I was told by the IPSO that I was number 4 on his top 10 list. Then, two weeks later, my case management officer told me that I was down to number 10. Later the chief IPSO told me that I could be at that number 10 for up to a year. He went on to tell me that people have gotten away with things at William Head and sometimes it takes them a year to catch them. He said, "Time will tell if you're sincere, but if you're not, we'll burrow you out." I said, "Well, I don't have a year to spend playing your stupid games. It's not fair that with zero substance to your so-called reliable information I should have to sit here in this joint and do more time in prison."

It seems that everything I do comes under suspicion. I was teaching a guy Tai Chi at the Buddhist grounds, and they gave me a bunch of heat for that because it makes the staff uneasy. I used to practice Tai Chi with other prisoners at Kent, at Matsqui and RHC, and there never was a problem. They get paranoid here. They think martial art and they've got this negative perception, but if they'd only sit down and talk to me about it they would realize that it's based upon a whole philosophy: if the hand moves forth, hold back the temper, if the temper moves forth, hold back the hand. It's not about kicking the shit out of people and it's not really about fighting. It's about stopping harm from being done. It's about balancing yourself, balancing the yin and yang influences. I've got the Tai Chi bible in my cell. It's called T'ai Chi Classics by Master Wai Sun Lao that's revered throughout the world. It talks about the roots of Tai Chi and what Taoists figured out thousands of years ago. And they don't even want to sit down and discuss it with me. They choose to be ignorant. However, it allows me an opportunity, like the Dalai Lama would say, to practise patience, because I sure need patience to deal with these people. (Interview with Gary Weaver, William Head Institution, April 16, 1998)

After lunch at his duplex, Gary Weaver, Unit Manager Marge Fletcher, and I had an extended discussion. Ms. Fletcher believed, as did Gary, that the information the IPSOs were receiving was probably coming from some PC prisoners seeking revenge on Gary for things he had done in the past. In the course of our discussion, a solution emerged. Stephanie Hronek, Gary's case management officer from Kent, was now a CMO at William Head. She would be in the best position to assess the recent changes in Gary. Particularly, she was well placed to assess how his participation in the Violent Offender Program had brought about further developments in his attitude, values, and commitment to change his life. As an experienced case management officer, she would be able to challenge the IPSOs on the reliability of their information.

Before I left, Gary showed me a drawing of a golden eagle he was working on. He explained the picture reminded him of himself. "I was trying to capture the true characteristics of the golden eagle, the intensity which you see in the eyes but at the same time the patience. The intensity and the patience are held in balance. That is what I am trying to do. I've always had the intensity and it's always caused me problems, but it's part of who I am. If I can balance it with patience in working towards what I want in life, I will be like the golden eagle. My vision will be focussed but it will also be broad, and I will see the big picture." Later he took me up to his room to show me the books he had been reading to discipline his art, his mind and his spirit. He had spent some of his limited money on a book on Rembrandt, and he had just finished reading George Orwell's 1984.

Over the summer of 1998 things started to look up for Gary Weaver. He completed the Healthy Relationships Program and the Violent Offender Follow-Up Program. He was taken off the IPSOs' "Top 10" list as mysteriously as he had appeared on it. Ms. Hronek recommended that his security classification be lowered to minimum security and that he be transferred to Elbow Lake. Her logic was that Mr. Weaver had completed every aspect of his correctional plan and had served ten months at William Head demonstrating his ability to use the skills he had learned. She noted that "although there have been numerous reports received by the IPSO department suggesting Mr. Weaver is involved in the use of and distribution of drugs and alcohol and the 'muscling' of other inmates, there has been no proof to support any of the allegations" (Progress Summary, William Head Institution, August 24, 1998). Ms. Hronek's recommendation did not carry the day, however, and the Deputy Warden of William Head, Mr. Denis, determined that Mr. Weaver would remain a medium security prisoner. He wrote:

I acknowledge progress made by Mr. Weaver. Mr. Weaver needs, in my view, to concentrate on demonstrating pro-social behaviour and attitude at William Head itself, for a sustained and significant period of time. Only in this way would I be satisfied that the institutional adjustment factor would be rated low. (Final Decision Offender Security Level 98-08-31)

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Gary Weaver and his friend Robin at William Head